Day 8

I walked with my girlfriend to the river. We had no being business being together.
We had reasons. Physical touch. I held her hand, so basic, so
Intricate a hand.

I think we were intrigued, curious about each other. Me, open, aw-shucks, unsure.
Her, rigid, certain, anxious, vain.
We were of a moment.

We sat in the grass in the pre-dawn. A few bodies here and there, lying in the grass, canoodling, embracing as one.

But she and I were two, definitely two, together in our separateness.

It’s harder to be enmeshed in the summer, when it’s so hot you don’t want to touch or be touched.
Everything is close and sticky. You want to be alone in your room with an a/c unit blowing on you.
“The city is hot as a cats mouth and smells just as sweet.”
Is a line I wrote down that night, to be used later. Now, as it happens.

We sat for awhile under flickering pressure sodium lamps, knowing we weren’t long for each other, but wishing each other not un-well.
We regarded the lovers, the far lights of Hoboken terminal twinkling in the humid distance across the river, and rats darting across the new-mown grass.

She had, has, a crooked smile, a New Yorker’s impatience, ambition, hustle, a flat matter-of-factness.

Fun. she wanted fun, craved it, chased fun outside of herself when really it was her inner self perpetually throwing a bucket of cold water on her own abandon, clamping down on any fun, checking its watch, looking across the room at her and tapping its wrist.

I was part of her yearning search, her desperate quest for fun. Some Jack Kerouac roman candle crazy fizzy sparkly fun she was after and thought I represented.

Ironic, because technically she was the libertine and I the religious fanatic.

Well, I am kinda fun. So maybe she got what she was after.

Also, I was a project. Someone for her to help. She made me try out for “the Voice.” She stood in line with me for an entire Saturday afternoon. That’s another story. (I didn’t win).

She wanted to sing with me, always. She wanted more music in her life. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, she was a Lefty, after all. A “red diaper baby” she said. Her grandmother was a communist. Her parents. It was as in her blood as my Christianity was in mine, and here we get both to the nut of our difference, and the source of our attraction. We were just so different. We fascinated each other.

Not that we disagreed that much politically. We voted for the same people. But her preoccupations were different, her visions, her solutions, her desire.

Her unrest met my rest and we shared an uneasy moment. For a hot sticky summer we were up for anything.

We sat in the grass, saying not much, then we walked back to an un-air-conditioned apartment I shared with 2 geriatric cats and a restless ambitious (another New Yorker) sensible roommate who told me very day to break up with my girlfriend for pity’s sake and get my life together. She wasn’t good for me, didn’t treat me that well. Why were we even together? I didn’t know.

My girlfriend and I stood outside my apartment. I hugged her goodbye and she walked back to the A train alone, where she rode it, alone, to her apartment way way uptown.

I patted my pocket: Keys. I walked back to the river to retrieve them, and there they were lying on the grass where they’d fallen out of my pocket, amongst the still-canoodling couples, lying together, oblivious of the heat, the impending day, heedless of everything but their own singular embrace.

Day 7

I had gotten into a routine where I was writing for a while before bed, but tonight I fear I have waited too late and I am too tired. I’m pretty much out of juice. I’m trying my trick of reading poetry to try to get myself in the mood to write, but it’s not working. The poems aren’t grabbing me. I guest worship-led at a church in Raleigh this morning. I hung out with my family. My sister made a delicious mushroom bisque. I went for a walk/run. I watched “The Office” with Mom and Dad. All I want to do is go to bed and watch Star Trek TNG on Netflix, but I’m so tired I know this one of those nights I will watch only a few minutes before falling asleep. I’ll start my writing routine earlier tomorrow. Perhaps first thing.

The Librarian (Day 6)

I go to the library sometimes on Saturdays to print chord charts out for Sunday, if I’m playing in the church worship band (“Leading Worship.”) A few times I have gone without my library card, which means I have to enter my library card info in manually. I have to ask the librarian for my card number. She asks my name and then does a search. She has a cool and dispassionate manner, verging on curt. The librarian asks my address, and I tell her, but it’s not the same address with which I signed up for the card, years ago. She looks up and slowly shakes her head. “That’s not it,” she says. “Try again.” So I think, with my eyes closed. “Is it Keap Street?” I ask. Her head shakes. “22nd Street?” No. Finally I run through a few til I get to an address I thought I had forgotten, but pulled it up somehow. “That’s it,” she says, and starts to write my library card number down in neat script. She hands me the slip of paper with the number on it, wordlessly. Some might think that librarian is unfriendly, and in fact I read an online review of the Library branchthat suggested she was (I believe the review was referring to her). It was in fact a hateful review, and when I read it it made me sad for humanity. Not to hard to be sad for humanity these days. And I wanted to say to that reviewer that he didn’t get her, for lurking under the stoic face, is the mere hint of the beginning of the idea a smile. The detached manner belies a warm heart. A lot warmer than I might have if I were in charge of a busy library on a Saturday afternoon. It’s full of kids. I didn’t mention the kids. Anyway, How do I know the librarian has a warm heart? Well, I have secret knowledge, and the librarian knows that i have secret knowledge. We have a secret.

ONe day there was a book fair and a bake sale to raise money for the library. I came on a Saturday to print off my stuff, and instead of manning her table inside, the librarian was stationed outside at a folding card table selling brownies. She had on a bright teal shirt with the Library Branch name and the Brooklyn Public Library logo on it. All of the staff and volunteers were wearing a shirt with this design.

“Nice shirt,” I said.
“Uh huh,” The Librarian said. “You like it?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Come on,” she said, and got up from her table.

I followed her into the library. The Librarian then got out some keys from a pocket in her skirt and opened the door to a staff room, holding her finger to her lips. She went inside for a second then re-emerged, holding something rolled into a tight cylinder. “Put this in your bag” she said. “And don’t tell anybody I gave it to you. It’s supposed to be staff only.” I took it. It was one of the teal book fair shirts. “For me? Wow. Thank you,” I said. The Librarian put her finger to her lips one more time. “Shhh!” she said, then walked away.

Day 5

I’m reading an old issue of Poetry magazine. clicking on it. Click. Is there an audible click? No, even my click is virtual. My machine has done away with clicks and now I tap and swipe silently. Clicks are so yesterday. but the poem I’m reading is even more yesterday. from 1981. James Wright, I might as well say. I don’t know a lot about him but he’s writing about chocolate penguins in italy sitting on a dusty sunlit table, and the page from old issue of poetry magazine has been photographed so it looks like an actual page and not just pixels on glass or plastic. I feel like I’m in 1981 in Italy. James Wright from Ohio. He drank too much. Tragically much. I used to drink too much too. “I still do, but I used to, too” said Mitch Hedberg. Except I don’t anymore. I’m tapping my finger on a button which brings up a new poem, a new poet.

I like these scans. These photographs of actual pages, which are kinder and warmer than run-of-the-mill pixels on a screen. I know, I’m repeating myself. It’s worth saying again. Poetry Magazine at Poetryfoundation.org. Archived issues of old poetry. An abundance of riches.

I’m reading a poem about birds and remembering bird in my neighborhood, sparrows in September. They all converged on one tree, this was the tree that they decided was the one. You can walk down the street and not hear a sparrow and then from a distance hear so many of them and then come upon the tree where they decided to converge, cacophonous, deafening, chattering, trilling, making the top of the tree quiver with activity. And there are some humans too. We humans in my neighborhood. Who pass each other silently.

I listened to a podcast about bird migration. There’s a lot we don’t understand about bird migration. I mean collectively. Personally, I don’t know anything about bird migration. Collectively we know a lot more, but there are still many mysteries. How do the birds know when to go, and why do they go, and how do they all get the bird memo at the same time that it’s time to go. On the podcast scientists were conjecturing and I was glad there are still some things we don’t know.

Birds like to go. They don’t like to stay. I mean, if I could fly, personally I wouldn’t want to stay either.

Day 4 of 31

I’m in NC. I took a plane here. Visiting my parents. Also I had an interview for a worship-leading job. It was interesting, fun, maybe a little stressful. North Carolina is relentlessly green and relentlessly hot. That’s the way I think of it. I can breathe here better. I notice myself relaxing. It’s nice to be with my parents. One of the perks of growing older is being with one’s parents as an adult.

I’m so tired. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. in Brooklyn. Took an Uber to JFK. The baggage line where you put your stuff in the bins was chaotic. One of the more chaotic experiences I’ve had going through security. No one knew quite what to do, and the ones in charge didn’t quite know how to tell us. There was a lot of standing around. Hapless people everywhere and I was one of them. I complained, to a guy in a badge and a blue TSA shirt. I wasn’t angry or upset, just trying to register an opinion as a traveler. He didn’t really know what to do with my complaint. He just kind of shrugged and I shrugged back. Ah, plane travel in America.

There’s more, more. I feel the writing bug in me. I have been reading a book my sister gave me called “From Where You Dream,” which is a collection of transcripts of talks given by Robert Olen Butler. The main thesis is that when you write you should be writing from the same place from which you dream — the pure subconscious, or as close to the sub conscious as you can get.

And I think this is right. I wrote a guest post for my friend Tamara’s blog recently about vocation, and talked about songwriting, and how occasionally I get to this pure place where images and ideas come bubbling up and tumbling forth. I believe it is the same place Robert Olen Butler speaks of, and I’m anxious to reach this place more and to write.

This is a short post, It’s time for bed. Good night.

October Writing, Day 3 of 31.

I took a bike ride. On the bike I call mine, which I think is mine. My friend Jay Datema gave it to me, or lent it to me, but I don’t think he expects it back. Jay has, or had, a job in Manhattan, and rode the bike, a rusty brown Schwinn, over the bridge. I don’t know which bridge. Brooklyn, Manhattan or Williamsburgh. The bike has a wimpy bell, and Jay bought a more sturdy bike with a more commanding bell. So he gave me the old Schwinn, which I love. Jay’s a librarian. He loves books and music, and owns a Brownstone in Park Slope along with his wife, Jessica. I’ve known both of them since college. In fact, Jay lived next door to me in Saint Dorm, named after Missionary and Jungle Aviator Nate Saint, who was killed while trying to evangelize the Huaroni people in Ecuador. I had a Christian Comic book about Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and the rest of the crew who were killed. They are evangelical royalty.

Anyway, Jay loved music and was always listening to obscure British bands from the 4AD label. He smoked Dunhills and was a literature major. My taste in music was less cool. I liked old bands from the 60s and 70s. Well, I liked a few new bands/musicians like U2, the Samples, the Judybats, Bob Mould, Vic Chesnutt. I was just getting into songwriting then. Just discovering myself, starting to write good songs. I was listening to a lot of Bruce Cockburn. I had a Bruce Cockburn songbook with tablature and studied the way he played guitar. His right thumb was — is — like a jackhammer. All fingerpickers use their thumb, but Cockburn’s is especially forceful and dynamic. I studied his lyrics too. I’m sure I stole a few lyrics from him. I love Cockburn’s images. The way he is so generous with them — he just throws beautiful images around with lavish abandon.

I didn’t like going out, and was probably depressed. I didn’t do so well at Wheaton College. I slept in the day and went out at night. I smoked. We weren’t allowed to smoke at Wheaton. But I had friends, and girlfriends, and made music with my friend Brian Funck, with whom I went on to form a music partnership. It was so full of magic then. Life was so full of discovery and feeling. I just felt everything so deeply. And yet. And yet I was paralyzed in strange ways. I didn’t know how to be an adult. How do do things like wake up and go to class and do what you’re supposed to to. I learned that much much later.

About a year later, my friend Diane, who is a writer, wrote an acrostic poem based on my name, which I treasure. I don’t remember the whole thing. The “A” was “Awed and open as a babe,” and the “O” was “On a journey coaxed from dream.” Phew. On a journey indeed. Oh Diane.

So my bike ride. On Jay’s Schwinn, I went down my street to Prospect Park. There is a dedicated bike lane, but vehicles don’t really pay attention. It’s common to encounter 3 or 4 vehicles idling in the bike lane on the way to the park. I have a bit of a cold so I was sucking on zinc lozenges. Something was stuck in my wheel and I had to pull over and turn the bike upside down to figure out what it was. A man walked over to look at it with me. He was dark-skinned, wearing glasses and a ball cap. I think he was Dominican, but I’m not sure. “That’s your problem, right there,” he said, pointing to a bungee cord which had gotten tangled in the gears. “Thanks, I said,” and he walked away. It took me a minute or so to yank the thing out and I was on my way. I saw the man again a 100 yards away or so and nodded at him, but I don’t know if he recognized me. He didn’t react. I rode on to the Park.

Jay’s Bike.

October Writing, Day 2 of 31.

I live on the top floor of a house in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. I’ve written about it before. They (they being my landlady and her sons, of which there are four) tell me I have the best room in the house. I think they are right. I can see the subway on winter days, through the trees, rushing down the track toward Manhattan. I can hear it now, as I type. It sounds a little like running water. A faucet not turned off. I hear it intermittently. It is not loud or clattering, it’s a calming rush. I have a skylight. I don’t thank the Lord for that skylight but I should. I will now. I did. I can see the tops of trees from it, chimneys, residual sunset glow, a couple of tenacious stars. If I open my window I hear crickets, yowling cats, children, the neighbors in their sukkah, my landlady’s son in the garage, smoking and working, tinkering, occasionally blasting Pink Floyd.

I should be happy. Can I be? Yes. I can. I thanked God for the skylight before. What else can I thank him for? I just had a carrot. It was frankly a little tasteless. I had a tuna sub before that, with lots of jalapenos on it. I am a latecomer to jalapenos, not having had them much as a child. I can thank God for my late Jalapeno discovery. Shelter. Gifts without, gifts within.

A piano waiting for me. I want to play it, to learn it, to even master it. I’m far away from these goals and currently my piano has a heap of clothes on it. I’m thankful for the piano. It was a gift and I’m thankful for the friend who bought it.

I made a list this evening and on it was to write, and to to some back exercises, and to play some piano. I didn’t feel like writing, in fact I told myself it was the last thing I wanted to do, and yet here I am, writing and it feels good.

I have coffee made for tomorrow. Sometimes I do that: make coffee for the next day ahead of time. It’s not fresh and it’s not hot, but it’s ready, the instant I roll out of bed. I buy the vacuum packed 10 oz packages, which are perpetually on sale at the grocery store I frequent, called “C-Town.” In New York the supermarkets are small and have strange names. There’s one I used to go to called “Western Beef.” It had a cactus logo. Very out of place in NY. Anyway, I used to buy these huge slabs of cheddar cheese that were on sale at western beef. At C town I buy the coffee. Cafe Bustelo, in the oh so bright blocks. $2.99. Is that cheap? Around here that’s cheap. I saw a woman buying Cafe Bustelo at Rite Aid for almost $5.00 a block and I told her she could buy it for $2.99 at C-town. “Really?” She asked. “Yep,” I said. “Thanks,” she said. She told her friend who was with her. They bustled out.

I think of all the things I will miss when and if I leave New York. It’s strange that I even live here. Aaron, a friend said. “Brooklyn isn’t your thing but you’ve made it your thing.” That’s very true. There goes the subway again. A faint rush. The Q/B. Used to be an excursion line to Coney Island. Goes through an open cut. (An open cut subway is one that is below ground, but exposed to air).

I’m winding down. The will, the rush I feel from writing, is dwindling. I wish it were inexorable. I wish I were inexorable. Maybe I am.

Skylight

Life is Hard And You are Going to Die (October Writing, Day 1 of 31).

I told myself I was going to write something every day in October. I’ve fallen off writing as much as I want to, and have fallen off keeping up this blog. A while ago I posted a photo every day in a given month, and it was a good exercise. I pretty much kept to it, missing only a couple of days. So, I’m going to write every day in October, give or take a day. I won’t edit too much, or think too much. The idea will be to post something. Quality will be secondary. But hopefully what I post will be decent enough.

I heard a sermon once called “Life is Hard and You are Going to Die,” Wherein the preacher kept repeating that line. I liked it. He was offering it as an antidote to the so-called “Health and Wealth Gospel,” Where preachers tell you God will give you whatever you ask for, including material wealth and possessions, if you just have enough faith, and ask. Of course life doesn’t work that way, and God, if he or she exists, doesn’t work that way. As an illustration, the preacher offered the example of St Polycarp, who was burned at the stake, and then pierced with a spear for good measure, for refusing to worship Caesar. Life is hard, and you are going to die, but hopefully not by simultaneous incineration and spear wound.

So after hearing that sermon and liking the title, I challenged myself to write a song called “Life is Hard and You are Going to Die.” Also, I thought such a song might be a good contrast to all the “Everything’s going to be all right” songs in pop music. Here’s what I got. I like a few of these lines; others are too dark or too dull, or both. These lyrics don’t reflect my state of mind. I’m much more optimistic. But a challenge is a challenge. So here are the lyrics, and here is day #1 of 31 days (or so) of writing.

Life is Hard and You are Going to Die

It won’t be ok
It won’t be alright
darkness follows day
soon it will be night

Don’t you lift your head
one day you’re alive
Next day you’re not
Blood must be shed

There’s something you can’t beat;
Neither can I
Life is hard
and you are going to die.

Trust’s a dirty word
nourish all your fears
don’t you rest assured
don’t you dry your tears

The blooms will leave the roses
The dog will run away
The kids have a runny noses
What reason should he stay?

If you’re ever tempted to think
Things are fine
I will always be here to remind you.
Life is hard and you are going to die.

Gallery

NYC Photos April and May 2018: Trump’s in town, U Thant Island, Gantry Park, Long Island City Queens

I got some good photos walking around the other day in New York (Wednesday, May 23). I gathered in the morning with my pastor-friend Ben to do some work in the Flatiron district at 26th street and then later walked North and East to 38th street as far East as the East River, and then back West to 38th and 2nd where I had a small group meeting. That is, a meeting with a small group of Christians I gather with on a semi-regular basis to eat and study scripture.

I love taking photos. I use an Honor 8 phone, a midrange-priced cell phone (made by Huawei, a company which the US intelligence community says not to use ) that happens to have a really good camera (The phone is fragile though and the screen shatters easily. I have been through 2 screens already. I probably need to find a new go-to phone but I’m used to this one). I edit the photos I take with the Google Photo app’s built-in editor and then maybe put an instagram filter on there too. Sometimes people say nice things about my photos on instagram and I feel like saying I cheated, because the Google app can can and does make regular old photos look a lot more stunning. It’s a little creepy too, how Google will randomly choose photos from the cloud to gussy up and present to me.

You see all kinds of things in NY. Trump was in town on this day so there was an increased police presence, a generalized air of expectation, and then later on in the evening interminable traffic delays. I engaged one of the traffic cops in conversation (you can see him in the photo) and asked him if the President was in town. “Trump’s in town,” he affirmed. I asked him what for. “Oh you know, some political things, or maybe some business things, you know, with the tower.” It was pretty clear the guy had no idea but just wanted to talk, which was fine cause I did too.

By the river I saw a police boat engage with a jet-ski in the East river. It looked like maybe the jet-ski got too close to a little tiny island [*Edit. I did a little (very little. I typed “tiny island East River” in my search bar) research and found out more about this tiny island, which is called U Thant island. Please watch this video for some fascinating and entertaining history.]

If you watched the video then you know that no one is allowed on the island. (“U Thant” touch this). Accordingly, the police boat shooed the jetski away. I have to wonder if the police boat is a constant presence near U Thant Island, or whether it was part of the beefed-up Presidential visit security.

Behind U Thant Island is Gantry park, in Long Island City, Queens, which offers stunning views of the NYC skyline. You might ask why it’s called Long Island City if it’s not in Long Island. The answer is that technically Queens (and Brooklyn) are part of Long Island. They comprise the Western Part of Long Island. But when people use the term “Long Island” they usually mean the eastern part. That is, the suburbs. By the way, Long Island is the 11th largest island in the US and larger than Rhode Island, which technically has the longest State name of all 50 US States (State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations)!

I hope you like these photos of Manhattan, the East River, and Long Island City, Queens (The Queens photos are from April 24).

Pictured: Friendly Traffic Cop.

 

I turned the red filter way up.  Can you tell?

I’m not sure what was causing the sun to dapple that building on the right but I liked it.

NYPD Police boat shooing away jet-ski from U Thant Island.  If you didn’t watch the video about U Thant you really should.

Pepsi Cola Sign by Night. Gantry Park.

View of Manhattan Skyline from Gantry Park. (Panoramic view which got kinda bent). On this night, the Empire State building (over to the far left) was not lit, in honor of the victims of the terrorist van attack in Toronto the day before.

View of Manhattan skyline framed by one of the eponymous gantries.

Shame Dissolution

Shame
Shame dissolution
Same
Same my name
Fingers swipe thumb flick
Savior-ing savoring
Crunch
Remembering silence
Remembering sleep
Body is in a supine slump against a
Subway car wall.
2 teenagers get on.
Take up position
Ones arm keeps jostling mine
He is younger than my nephew who is my yardstick for measuring
How I dole out my love, tolerance, avuncularity.
I’m world-weary and also just regular ol weary.
I want to get to my coffee stained mattress
And lie alone.
Young canoodling man,
I used to canoodle too
Toodle oo.

But guess what.
I get off one stop early.
Instead of getting off at my stop.
Because I want to walk and meditate-pray.
I pass so many cats out and about.
They know it will be Spring soon.
I make a scraping sound with my lips
That means: I love you.
Your furry body darting across the street.
Your glowing always
And never-satisfied eyes.